Which Groups Have the Largest Noses and Why?


clip art of man with large nose in front of world map main

People throughout the world have different physical characteristics, including skin color, eyes, and types of noses.  These different body types are often a result of an adaption to climate.  Different types of noses help to regulate the temperature and moisture of the air. Stereotypes involving noses, including the noses of Africans and Jews, can be hurtful.  Jews and Africans, like others, have a diversity of types of noses.  

Big Noses 

Steve Martin’s film Roxanne is an update on an old story about a Frenchman with a very large nose.  Fans of Friends might remember that Rachel as a teenager had a very big nose.  And, one of the insults in the Monty Python film, Life of Brian, was to call someone “Big Nose.”

My nose is not too big, I think, though it is a pain when I have a stuffy nose.  When I was growing up, the idea that big noses help to prevent sniffles would have somewhat surprised me. 

The question of the hour is what type of people, what nationality, have the biggest noses?  

Who has the largest forehead? Find out here.

African Noses

One stereotype is that black people have big noses.  The truth of the matter is that there is a range, especially with racial mixing.  For instance, we talked about Russians being tall.  The people of Europe (I should know; I am Irish and Italian) have a range of body types.  

One study of the noses of black people divided them into three types, each with different looks.  West Africans have the widest noses, while North Africans tend to have the least wide.  You can find a range of black noses, just like you can find a range of white and Asian noses.  

Africans do have wide noses, including enlarged nostrils, wide and rounded tips, and a lack of protruded nasal bridge. The “protruded” bit means the noses tend to be stubby, not long.  White people from Europe, in comparison, have longer noses. Asians have the smallest noses.

Why Do People Have Different Types of Noses?

We talked about the height of Asians.  The discussion helped us understand how different physical characteristics can develop as a result of adaptation to the environment.  

For instance, researchers have found that wider noses are more commonly found among people living in warm and humid climates, and narrower noses are more commonly found among people in cold and dry climates.  Narrower noses help make the air we breathe warmer and more moist.  

This also helps explain why different types of Asians have different types of noses. The climate is different depending on where you go.  As a result, Asians developed different body types in places like India and Japan, adapting to their environment.  

Big noses also help to breathe in more oxygen, which is used to build energy.  This helps to explain why men have bigger noses on average than women.  Men are bigger and evolved more physically active in ways that lead to more heavy breathing.  

We should remember this is all a rough summary.  And, cultural norms are not the same as what is “naturally” appropriate.  A society that honors women with small, cute noses does not do so merely because our Cro-Magnon male ancestors chased wooly mammoths more than women.  

World War 2 German antisemitic Propaganda poster

Do Jews Have Big Noses? 

One well-known stereotype, often used as a hateful trope including in Nazi Germany, is the idea that Jewish people (especially men) have big hook noses.  

A prominent nose, sometimes known as an “Aquiline” or “Roman” nose can be a sign of prestige.  A “Jewish nose” is a sign of “the other.”  The idea all Jewish people have a big nose is a myth.  

Some Jews do have big noses.  It is not a bad thing though many are self-conscious about them:

My father’s mother had had a nose job, too. I still remember, a year after my Bat Mitzvah, when she told me how relieved she was that I was finally growing into my nose. I wasn’t, really; I was just doing my best to hide it. I tried wearing my hair down, but it poked out. I tried hair up and dark eye makeup to distract, contouring to slim, and never ever allowing a camera to catch me in profile.

Allegra Ben-Amotz

The stereotypical “Jewish nose” is most likely to be found in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions.  But, they are only a minority of the noses.  They do stand out and are easy to stereotype.  And, intermarriage among Jews helped to make them a “type” in some communities.

Why Do Our Noses Keep On Growing? 

Pinnochio’s nose grows larger whenever he lies. Why do our ears and noses grow as we age?  We are not magical puppets and most of us generally tell the truth.  

Noses and ears are made of cartilage, a flexible tissue, which is softer than bone but harder than skin.  Cartilage weakens as we get older, giving less support to the skin, which also sags. 

Our noses are not “growing” as much as sagging.  Other things also help make our noses seem larger such as thinning lips and cheeks, which tends to emphasize the nose.  

Do Bigger Noses Smell Better?

When a person breathes through their nose, the nerve endings inside the nose allow them to smell the odors in the air.  Does a bigger nose, therefore, mean we smell better? 

Men have bigger noses but women also have been found to have a better sense of smell.  Older people can have bigger noses but they do not have a better sense of smell.  People who had nose jobs do not smell more poorly (after they fully heal).  Starting to see a theme?  
Some people have a much better sense of smell.  But, the size of your nose is not the reason. Genetic factors affecting your nerve sensitivity and other things are the true cause.

Final Thoughts 

What nationality has the biggest nose?  That is one question I had when I started researching this topic.  But, what is a “big” nose?  Black people have wide noses but many white people have big and long noses.  One stereotype is a big, bulbous white nose of a drunk person. 

A “big nose” often is a nose that is too large for a particular culture.  Some cultures, such as Persians (Iranians) seem comfortable with their sometimes quite prominent noses.  A big nose can be a sign of prosperity or wealth.  Some cultures, including blacks and Jews, at times, treasure their larger noses.  “Black is beautiful, including my nose!”  

I think we should honor human diversity, including all types of physical characteristics. And, learn a bit about them.  I hope you enjoyed and learned a bit from this nose-y discussion.

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.

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